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The Empire Strikes Back

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Following the success of teams like Phoenix and Dallas in the last couple of years some new buzzwords have entered the NBA lexicon:  versatility, interchangeability, fluidity, flexibility.  The new NBA isn't about positions, it's about players and options.  But a funny thing happened on the way to the revolution.  The new NBA just got its collective butt handed to it by the old NBA...by teams with point guards that pass, with centers who are actually kind of big, with power forwards who rebound a little.  The teams remaining in the playoffs generally play the same players night after night at defined positions.  They design and execute good plays.  Putting a point guard and four forwards on the floor isn't enough to get you to the Promised Land?  Who'd-a thunk it?  Your virally-marketed You-Tube garage band was doing pretty good there...until the Beatles showed up.

Options and flexibility are great, but in the end you can only choose one option to go with on any given play.  If your option isn't as good as the opponents', you lose.  That's true even if they've been using that same option all game...or all season.  One clearly-defined A-level plan beats six B-level options every time.  That's exactly what happened this year.  Come to think of it, that team who won last year had pretty traditional roles as well.

It's easy to get caught up in buzzwords and trends.  For most teams the new words will fill the same function as the old ones...to cover mediocrity.  "We don't see positions, we see players" in many ways is just code-speak for "We don't have a big man and other than winning the lottery we don't know how to get one".  Successful teams will always be the ones who pick a style that works, get the players to fit that style, and then dedicate themselves to prosecuting that style with excellence.  Pretty much all four of the remaining playoff teams have done exactly that.  For most of them that style is more classic recipe than nouveau cuisine.  It doesn't matter.  All that matters is that they know what they're doing and they're good.

So far the flexible, interchangeable, avant garde teams have been people camping out overnight to get tickets to the big show.  When the window opens in the morning, it turns out some people have priority passes.  This year they showed up, patted the overnight campers on the head and thanked them for making the regular season more interesting, and then walked right up.  If I'm a GM I don't want to figure out how to be the first in line next year, I want to get me one of those passes.

--Dave (blazersub@yahoo.com)

P.S.  I guess if I'm the Blazers this means I do want to know whether Lamarcus is a power forward or center, whether Brandon is a point or shooting guard, what the heck Martell and Travis are, and what I'm getting in the draft.  I want to know how and where those guys play best and then I want to keep them there (not monkeying with them) and then build around them.  Also I'm not that afraid of taking an old-school big man if he's good, nor of executing a halfcourt game if that's our strength.  Predictable is OK if it's predictably good.